Hometown Hopefuls: Cameron Wood, Montana
Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit NBCSports.com/hometownhopefuls for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.
It takes a certain kind of daredevil to race BMX. Cameron Wood developed that trait as a toddler.
As Wood remembers it, he was just a few years old when he grabbed a wrench and took the training wheels off his bike when his parents weren’t looking. Then he taught himself how to ride in his native Montana.
The precociousness didn’t stop there. Wood, now 21, ranked second on the BMX World Cup circuit in 2022, becoming the latest American star in a relatively new Olympic event.
Next year, he can join an exclusive list of Montanans to win an Olympic medal, including Missoula’s Dave Johnson (1992 bronze medalist in decathlon) and Eric Bergoust (1998 gold medalist in aerials skiing).
For Wood, it all began in Bozeman. He played football and basketball, plus skied growing up. But he fell in love with speeding on wheels.
“On walks with my mom, I would [ride] down into people’s flower gardens and then just try and be creative with it,” he said.
One day, mom Andrea found a flyer for Gallatin Valley, a BMX track down the road. It was perfect. Her son could train, and her neighbors’ lawns wouldn’t get destroyed.
Wood neared his teenage years with two similar sport passions: motocross and BMX. In the former, he suffered concussions from bad crashes, which ultimately led to a focus on the latter.
“At a super young age, I honestly liked motocross more, but I just didn’t know my limits; I didn’t know when to hold myself back,” he said. “My parents definitely liked the idea of having to train and work for speed on a bike rather than obviously just twist your wrist and go as fast as you can.”
In the year that BMX debuted at the Beijing Games in 2008, Wood was already performing like a rider with Olympic aspirations, winning a U.S. Open title in the 7- and 8-year-old division at age 6.
The family moved to Phoenix when Wood was 16, in large part to foster his blossoming athletic career. He said that Montana had two BMX tracks in the entire state. He could only ride a few months out of the year due to the cold weather.
“When I did finally make the move to Arizona, and I had year-round nice weather and all the tools I needed -- more tracks, faster racers -- it was all things that I never had growing up,” he said. “So I feel like that is kind of what made the trajectory so drastic, and I guess there’s so much improvement in such a short period of time.”
Wood still credited Montana for making him adaptable. Cross-training in the winters with other sports helped him become a more well-rounded athlete. He also supported his pursuit with odd jobs: cleaning up his uncle’s construction sites, landscaping and babysitting.
All that work paid off in 2019. Wood said he won 17 domestic events in about 21 starts in the junior elite category. Then he moved to the senior level.
In his first senior pro race, Wood finished second between two-time Olympians Corben Sharrah and Nic Long just before the pandemic shut down sports in 2020.
“I remember literally being in the grandstands, and it probably would have been 2010 or 2011 with my dad, about 8 or 9 years old, watching them race,” Wood said. “So standing on that podium with them, it was a pretty cool moment.”
Wood then earned his first professional win at the January 2021 Winter Nationals, beating a field that included reigning Olympic champion Connor Fields.
But he didn’t have the international standing yet to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Wood was 19, and no American man that young had ever made an Olympic team in BMX.
So he made his big splash in 2022. Wood debuted on the World Cup, reached the podium in his fourth start, then won his sixth, which he called the best accomplishment of his career thus far.
“I grew up watching World Cups and dreaming of the day that I was on the TV racing in them,” he said. “To be able to do that, let alone win it, it was a special moment.”
To make it more impressive, he did that while largely training on his own. Wood had been coached by 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sam Willoughby since 2019, but Willoughby took a job with his native Australian national team early last year.
“I had to improvise and kind of started just doing everything that he taught me, just a little bit more individually,” Wood said. He recently began working with German Medina, whom USA Cycling recently hired after a long spell with his native Colombia, a strong BMX nation.
Wood’s focus this summer is to continue to bolster his chances of qualifying for the Paris Games by accumulating strong results on the World Cup. A nation can earn up to three spots per gender for the Paris Games, and the qualifying window runs into 2024.
Then there are August’s world championships in Glasgow, Scotland. At last year’s worlds, Wood missed the final by 15 thousandths of a second in his 30-second semifinal as the youngest man to reach that round. The year before that, he was eighth as the youngest in the eight-man final at age 19, having yet to compete on the World Cup.
Wood also prioritizes visiting Montana every summer. Through the USA BMX Foundation, he has spoken at the schools he attended as a kid.
“The goal is to get kids on bikes,” he said. “That place is home, and it always will be.”
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